Fleet News

AT&T integrates European fleet

December 2001: Consolidating its widespread fleet and harmonising driver policies across Europe is one of the biggest tasks facing the fleet department at global communications giant AT&T.

And this is no easy feat when you consider that just a couple of years ago - in Belgium alone - the group employed the services of six leasing companies, a fleet management company and multiple insurance arrangements, but operated a fleet of just 80 cars.

This situation arose when AT&T acquired IBM's global network business, and its associated fleet. AT&T fleet executives then began the task of integrating the two companies' fleet polices.

Today, the company operates 900 vehicles in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regions, with the United Kingdom having the largest fleet of 430 vehicles, followed by the Netherlands with 180 vehicles. The remainder is spread across more than 20 other countries.

'Until about two and a half years ago AT&T's fleet operations were all run autonomously,' said AT&T fleet manager EMEA Gareth Wilsher, who is based in Worcestershire in the United Kingdom.

'My predecessor was given the task of consolidating the fleet and then AT&T took over part of IBM, taking control of its fleet.'

Wilsher joined the company shortly afterwards and he readily admits that fleet consolidation involving so many countries, vehicles and suppliers is a tough job.

'There are many different cultures and attitudes to appreciate and learn about,' he said, 'and also complex tax and legal issues.

'A small fleet of just three cars in somewhere like Slovenia can cause more problems than a 150-strong fleet in a mature market like, for instance, Germany. But that is understandable - the fleet markets are only just beginning to grow in Eastern European countries so we are almost starting from scratch.'

Most of AT&T's company vehicles are leased but only where leasing services can provide the right level of service. AT&T has half a dozen vehicles in Russia, for example, but owns them outright.

Wilsher also questions many fleet suppliers' claims that they are able to offer a true 'pan-European service'.

'For some companies pan-European means two or three countries, it depends on the definition,' he said. 'There are companies able to cover much of Europe, but not the whole lot.'

It is for this reason that AT&T favoured the services of a leasing alliance — and chose EFFAM, which has leasing company members in 17 countries and a combined fleet of 270,000 cars.

In the UK, it uses EFFAM partner, HSBC Vehicle Finance, as well as Arval PHH. Arval PHH is also preferred supplier in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. In the Netherlands it uses EFFAM's Dutch partner, TOP Lease.

EFFAM and Arval PHH each supply about 40% of AT&T's fleet, and the remaining 20% might be supplied by home country leasing companies, where the vehicles are leased.

Wilsher views his department's role as an adviser to national operations and will not dictate how a particular country runs its fleet.

His department, he adds, works closely with human resources and individual country management to find the best local solution.

It would be impossible to introduce a common AT&T fleet policy for the whole of EMEA, he added, although in the future he could see fleet policies introduced on a regional basis, perhaps, for example, for countries in Western or Southern Europe.

'Car specifications also differ from country to country so that is another difficult area of the job,' he said, 'and as our staff have the opportunity of switching jobs within AT&T to another country they are well aware of what their colleagues are driving.'

Wilsher admits that this particular problem is not easily resolvable as not only do cars differ across Europe, leasing rates for the same grade of job do too.

'It is difficult when someone wants to know why a colleague with the same job in another country has a better car, but that really is a human resources issue, not a fleet one. I cannot ever see a time where we will be able to offer all staff one type of car.'

AT&T's Netherlands fleet is an example of one which offers a better specification of car to drivers. The area is suffering from an IT skills shortage so a company car is used to attract and retain highly-skilled staff.

But with AT&T there are no rigid polices and Wilsher said this is an area where co-operation between fleet and human resources executives and local management can help resolve issues.

For example, he said, one company driver based in Austria regularly covered areas like Bosnia for her job but her leasing allowance did not permit use of a 4x4 vehicle - however all parties agreed that she should have one to perform her job properly.

'This country-by-country co-operation is vital,' Wilsher explains, 'because local management are aware of local issues.'

AT&T's fleet is a mixture of perk and job-use cars and it uses a variety of different marques, both petrol, and diesel. Most of its leasing contracts involve full maintenance but in smaller countries that perhaps do not have a sufficient network it prefers to use the services of local garages.

Fuel cards are supplied to drivers in some countries but in others they are not. In France, all drivers have the use of a fuel card but in the United Kingdom they are only issued to directors.

Wilsher is proud of his department's achievements over the past 12 months but the focus is still very much on reducing suppliers and introducing common driver policies, a move that will not only reduce fleet administration but also ensure the whole process is cost-effective. (December 2001)

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